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What is Love?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV) (Holy Bible)

I wanted to write a second part to my previous post, The Shallowness of Fun. But there were two things that were stopping me. Thing number one was that I was not sure what more I could say on the topic that I had chosen. And thing number two was that I wanted to at least tangentially tie it back to Japan or Japanese. I’m really trying to stay focused on this topic, even if tangentially. I think I figured it out, so here goes.

If you want to know what I wrote in my previous post, please do read it.

So following on from my previous post, where I made some very specific assertions about the nature of impersonal, transactional interactions, I left an elephant in the room that I quite intentionally didn’t address, and this was partly because I didn’t really know how. I had to think about it more. The elephant in the room is this: What is the opposite of an impersonal, transactional interaction? In short, what is the difference between prostitution and love?

I think many people think they know the answer to this. I don’t really think they do.

So first of all, I think I need to define love. This is actually an extremely difficult thing to define, because it’s got so many different facets to it. Are we talking about friendship? Familial love? Erotic love? The greeks had three different words for love, and they are all translated to just mean “love” in English (which is, frankly, confusing for those who are trying to understand the New Testament in the Bible). We use the word “love” in many, many different ways, and many of them are transactional. Heck, you can even “make love” to a prostitute. How does that work?

But the point is that love is a confusing topic and it’s hard to define. But after thinking about it, here’s the definition I’ve come up with.

Love is giving entirely of yourself, without reservation, without any expectation of anything in return.

Fred Rogers

Of all of the entertainers out there, I can only think of one who actually embodied this definition of love, as completely as any man or woman ever has – and that man was Fred Rogers, also known as Mr. Rogers, an entertainer for many years on American public television. This is a man that was almost universally beloved amongst children and adults alike. And the reason was that he loved everyone.

There are stories about him, stories that are difficult to believe, but I believe them. He is said to have remembered everyone he met, even in passing, and send them cards or phone calls to commemorate important events in their lives. He remembered the names of people who drove him places, and sometimes even invited them into the place he was invited to (sometimes to the chagrin of his hosts, I imagine). One of his signature songs was “It’s you I like”, and the thing about him was, everyone believed it. He liked you. He loved you.

He gave entirely of himself, without regard for his earthly treasure, and expected nothing whatsoever in return. And the world loved him for it, but they probably didn’t even know why they loved him. That’s why they loved him. He loved them first. He gave his life, selflessly, to others.

I think we all yearn for this kind of unconditional love, and I think some of the greatest hurts that we can ever experience are because we sought this unconditional love from someone, and found out that it was conditional after all. Eventually you start to despair that this kind of unconditional love exists (particularly if you’ve never seen an example of it) and become fully involved in the transactional nature of the interactions that I referred to in my previous post. And, you can even have some physical success doing that. In this world, in fact, you really have little choice but to at least somewhat play the game. Even Mr. Rogers got a salary from the church that ordained him, and I assume the public television station that his show ran on. You have to eat, and that’s how the game is played.

But there’s a difference between understanding the game you’re playing, and thinking you’re playing a game that you’re not.

I said in my previous post that I have never visited a prostitute, and that is technically true. I have never exchanged money for sexual favors. That is not something that would even cross my mind.

But I didn’t have to, to be frank.

I have had a number of partners in my lifetime. I won’t say how many, but the number is about average for a man my age – I don’t consider myself to have been particularly profligate, at least compared to many other men I’ve known or heard of. But enough partners to understand something important. I didn’t love any of them. And they didn’t love me. They had a price for their body, and somehow, I met it. It just wasn’t cash. The price could be a promise of financial safety and security in the future. The price could even be the promise of intense pleasure for a little while. There are as many prices as there are people. Few of them are cash. All of them must be paid.

And they met my price as well. My price was access to their body and offering me comfort and safety. And for what I was offering, they were more than willing to pay. All the worse when it was ripped away.

Sure, we often said the words. The words “I love you” are cheap and physically easy to say. They can be the truth. They can be a promise. And most often, they’re a lie.

I never said them as a lie. I wanted them to be true. I wanted them to be true with every fiber of my being. I told myself that if I could convince myself that I loved them, maybe they would love me and return, and we could be happy together. But they were a lie. They were a bald faced lie. And the reason they were a lie is simple: I was telling them what they wanted to hear, what they wanted to believe, what I wanted them to believe, what I wanted to believe. I wanted to believe that I loved them, and that they loved me. But they didn’t.

But that’s not what love is. Love holds nothing back. Love gives your body to another person because you want them to be happy, to have pleasure. Love gives your heart to another person for no other reason than you want them to have it. Love is selfless, love does not expect anything in return.

Love is impossible.

So, let’s tie this to Japanese. I have stated in the past that I don’t know why I was learning Japanese. I still really don’t know, but let me offer up an observation:

Each culture has a different price for intimacy, and approaches it in a different way.

I’ve mostly given up on my culture. Transactional intimacy is too ingrained. There is no longer any such thing as selfless love anymore. It’s all about what price can be offered. The traditionally acceptable price for intimacy is three nice dates. It’s all about what you can offer, what you can provide, it’s just that the expectations are different by sex. Men are expected to provide good meals, financial safety, and saying the right thing at the right time, and being able to sexually perform. Women are expected to provide full and uninhibited access to their body, enthusiastically, whenever required. Those are the prices. Don’t or can’t fulfill these obligations? Don’t play the game. You’ll lose before you even start to play.

When I was first introduced to Japanese, it was through idol culture. Morning Musume, to be precise. The “golden years” of Morning Musume were young, teenage girls who made a living out of appearing innocent. And quite frankly, innocence is very appealing. Not for prurient purposes, but it’s more because the older a woman gets, the more jaded she becomes, the more ingrained is the transactional nature of intimate relations. Teenage idols offer a world where none of that is true. They at least pretend to be innocent, cute, childlike, and there is something tremendously appealing about watching people who (ostensibly) haven’t learned this truth of the world.

Some people think innocence is appealing because they can be the first to take it. Perish the thought! Seriously, that’s awful! Why would anyone want to take innocence? Innocence should be valued, treasured, protected! Everyone should hope for every young girl the same as they would hope for their own daughter! No, innocence is appealing because there’s not enough of it in this world.

And Japanese culture values at least the appearance of innocence.

In the world of Japanese kawaii culture, innocence is valued, treasured, and, sadly, marketed.

I think this is what appealed to me about Japan, more than anything else. It is not an innocent society, by any stretch of the imagination. But they value it, anyway. Mine doesn’t. It’s something to be destroyed, cast off, removed as quickly as possible.

So what is love? Love is giving entirely of yourself, without reservation, without expecting anything in return.

Love is, also, unattainable in this world anymore.

And that is what makes me the saddest of everything that makes me sad.

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[…] I promised in an earlier post that I would stop complaining about things I don’t like about Japan or Japanese culture. I am keeping that promise. This post is not intended to be as much a criticism about Japanese culture, as using that topic as a springboard into a deeper discussion of two of my previous posts: The Shallowness of Fun and What is Love?. […]

[…] I have been writing on love and false relationship. The first three were The Shallowness of Fun, What is Love?, and The Shallowness of Japanese Culture. The last one I’m not too comfortable with, and it […]


Mr. Rogers, unfortunately was a rare human being. He did a lot of good in the world and I hope through his actions and his show that at least someone became a better person because of it. Alas, it’s a shame.

I can’t even be nice to someone without them expecting there to be a “catch”. “What are you after”, “Why would you do such a thing for me”. Doing just the most simplest things and to hear these words kind of scare me into thinking what is going to happen to this world.


That is true.

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